For in the context of JFNA and Jerry Silverman, the question isn't "Is It Time...?" as it has been "time" almost from Day One; the questions morph instead into: (a)"why hasn't it happened already?" and (b) how can we effect change? While the answers are seemingly simple, at the end of the day one can only conclude that we will see unicorns and pigs flying before we see any changes.
But we persevere...
In approaching JFNA FY 2017-2018 we see polar extremes -- there are honesty and integrity and the values of our community on the one side -- and then there are self-preservation and self-promotion pulling on the other. And, to date, self-preservation and self-promotion have won this tug-of-war and the federations, JFNA and our values are the losers. Of course, what did a succession of Board Chairs from Kanfer forward to Sandler expect in return for the "rewards" they could and in many instances did dole out? Humiliating deference, fawning respect and constant sucking up -- for which one would receive appointments, higher office aspirations, and, from time-to-time you could join in personal vendettas and blackballing. And, these are/were our organizational superstars.
Yes, when all of these superstars should have been as Chicago's Mayor Rahm Emanuel put it "putting points on the board," they, instead, sopping up the adulation that comes from well-run meetings and reading well-written reports and leaving the mess that JFNA has/had become to "others" -- all "others." These are the JFNA leaders who came into office and quickly moved into and occupied an alternative universe where the skies are azure blue and JFNA is a success. These folks have created an "alternative culture" where even Jerry Silverman has led us with distinction, black is white and down is up.
These lay leaders have asked and ask for nothing of their Chief Executive Officer; and that's exactly what they and we have received. If there has been one constant, it has been that the narrative is always...always...bigger, grossly bigger, than the reality; so there is nowhere to go but to continue on the down, down, down. The only sounds that this leadership hear are those of their own hands clapping while the failures build and build and build in lock step with growing disengagement.
Friends, I and many of you can shout "Rise Up" as loud and as constant as we do with no affect. It is not the fact that JFNA under its current leadership, lay and professional, haven't the courage of their convictions; it is instead that it is an organization and a leadership with no convictions whatsoever. The next generation of leaders will look back and ask why the lay leadership of today did not hold its professional leadership and themselves accountable in any way. And we will have no answer.
So it is that here in mid-2017 JFNA lay leadership faces a binary choice -- between continued failure and any chance for success. JFNA can only get the wind at its back by putting in place a new Interim CEO for a defined and limited term to begin the process of reconstruction in a true lay-professional partnership while a search for a new CEO takes place. Change can't happen in any other way. Friends, there is no risk in doing so: the true risk is in saying nothing and doing nothing.
Michelangelo is credited with writing: "The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it; but that it is too low and we reach it." In the JFNA of today we have achieved the lowest of lows; our aim in neither high nor low, it is a place without any aim at all.
I despair that this leadership will ever find its voice. I recall at a very precarious time in the merger process, when UIA was strongly resisting the very concept, I convened a meeting of federation lay leaders. There was a presentation of the status and a relatively long discussion at the end of which the Board Chair of New York UJA-Federation stood up and asked: "Look, Richard, tell us what we need to do to move forward." It is my belief that the lesson of that meeting almost 20 years ago is equally persuasive today: the best of leaders are looking for leadership; and today's leaders can provide it If they are willing to do so.
The biggest "if" of all.